I have been sick this week, and because of my chicken heart, I thought I won’t be able to get through it. Being a student, I don’t have ample monetary sum to pass onto my family, but what I do have is a lot of online accounts, subscriptions, and a sumptuous amount of data on my several hard drives, as well as Dropbox and SkyDrive accounts (cloud). The thing to ponder here is what happens to all the digital data when its owner dies? Who continues their digital legacy?
Two years ago, Marc Davis, a partner architect at Microsoft spoke at the SXSW conference, in his talk, “Demystifying Online Privacy and Empowering the Digital Self“. Back then, he raised many interesting questions and revealed interesting facts.
Usually, where commerce and society meet legally is the concept of property. What’s missing is a concept of contract law and property rights for digital information.
In the last couple of decades, there has been a massive drift in the way we deal with and consume data. Thanks to the ever speedy and affordable internet connection, we consume GBs of data every day. But who will own it once we farewell this planet?
Accessing your account information
Legacy Locker is an online service that lets you pass on your password and other account details to your family and loved ones. You can set as much as two people who will be able to get your login information once you are gone. Legacy Locker is not one of its kind, there are many alternative services such as Cirrus Digital Legacy Services, My Digital Executor and
Entrustnet, in addition, also features the option to shut down all the accounts after one’s demise (if that is what is preferred). But the problem with such commercial services is that you are putting in a big heap of trust. You can never be sure if that company will exist after 5 years, let alone decades. You can also use password management software such as KeePass and mention its password in your will. Yes, it has been done before.
Shutting down all your accounts
Let’s start with the “second internet”, Facebook. Facebook gives the option to delete, deactivate or make the account memorializing after one’s demise. Though, someone is required to provide the death certificate. The same is true with Twitter.
Google also has a fair policy; it lets you delete the account with ease, provided you don’t have any outstanding payments left with any of the services associated with that account. To delete the account, go to its Deletion Page. For accessing and deleting a deceased person’s account, there is an official way that requires sending hand written fax, and the procedure may vary with location, head over and read the detailed instruction here.
Most services, including Yahoo!, have stated in their agreement that an end user’s account is non-transferrable, and along with all the data the account will be deleted once the death certificate of the owner is produced.
If you own a website, and have Google AdSense or other revenue being generated through advertising accounts, although the first amendment speaks no luck in the favor of passing on the crown: IT Business reports that if you transfer the website and domain info to a person, the trick could work, and the revenue can still be sent to a person. PayPal also allows you to delete your account, if the deceased person has any credit left, they will issue a cheque on the favor of account holder.
Things are very messy when it comes to information stored in bits and bytes. Transferring your license of any Windows software, iTunes subscription, e-book collection, and all the movies and songs you have downloaded off the internet (legally, of course, I mean, if they were illegal, you never had any license at first place) is strictly prohibited.
Books, magazines or any published content on a physical medium can be distributed without any hassle. But, any content that you have downloaded off the digital woods can’t be transferred at all.
Although the content can be shared, that is, it isn’t impossible for someone to give their entire movie collection, or mp3 library on a storage device, but that won’t be legal. Most services distribute DRM free content, so there goes the trouble of breaking all the codes. Bottom line is that the digital content you purchase online or offline are non-exclusive and non-transferrable (in most cases), things just don’t work out the same way when it comes to data in binary strings.